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Billed as Babbitt's first novel in 25 years, this book is really a charming collection of linked stories about the gentler side of pirate life aboard the Avarice. The tale-teller, Jack Plank, understands that "plundering" is not his strong suit: "You have to yell and make faces and rattle your sword.... Jack didn't seem to have a knack for it." So when the pirating economy slows, kindly Captain Scudder is forced to give him the pink slip. Put ashore with a small bag of gold florins donated by his shipmates, Jack finds himself on Saltwash Island, and convinces Mrs. DelFresno to take him in as a boarder. She's not too sure about renting a room to a pirate (his attire gives him away) but daughter Nina, 11, promises to help Jack quickly find a new occupation. Over the next eight days, however, Jack talks himself out of one profession after another by regaling his fellow boarders with colorful stories from his pirating past, featuring ghosts, mermaids and shapeshifters (but no violence), each of which demonstrates why he could never be a farmer, baker, jeweler or barber. Jack's lilting tales make an ideal read-aloud--so long as no one misses an up-close look at Babbitt's skilled pencil drawings. Perceptive readers will figure out long before Jack precisely what profession he's perfect for (the title gives it away), as Babbitt expertly weaves a message into Jack's tales: that stories are just as vital to a community as farming the land or baking bread. Ages 8-up. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal
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Gr 2-6-When a pirate ship falls on hard times, Jack Plank is let go because he is not very good at plundering. Left in the Caribbean town of Saltwash, he has a bit of good luck to temper the bad. Eleven-year-old Nina, the daughter of the widow he boards with, offers to show him around the port town to find work. But at dinner each night, Jack reports to the other boarders his unsuccessful day. Trouble is, Jack is not well suited to be a farmer, baker, fortune-teller, fisherman, barber, goldsmith, actor, or musician, each for a different reason. For instance, he can't farm in the fields across the bridge because he once helped an ungrateful troll reposition itself under it. He can't take edibles from the sea because a shipmate once turned into an octopus and saved his life, and so on. These stories spin out, one each for eight days, at the end of which, the resourceful Nina comes up with the perfect job. Babbitt has a lively time with proper names (Leech, Snipe, Scudder, Old Miss Withers) and swiftly delineates character in short conversations at dinner. Jack's tallish stories make fresh use of familiar folklore motifs: a mummy seeking its missing hand, a mermaid who enchants a sailor, the fate of a feral child raised by seagulls. Babbitt's spare black line drawings introduce each chapter and give readers some indication of the person whose story Jack relates. Some of the tales, which beg to be read aloud, will leave listeners arguing about what really happened while others will make them grin. All in all, this is one treasure of a book.-Susan Hepler, formerly at Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Jack Plank enjoys being a pirate, but plundering is not what it used to be, and Jack is let go. The good-hearted fellow takes a room in a boarding house run by Mrs. DelFresno, a widow with an 11-year-old daughter, Nina. Each evening at the communal dinner table, one of the diners suggests a possible occupation to Jack, who replies that he and Nina discussed that very idea earlier in the day as they walked about the Jamaican port town. However, he has ruled out that particular job, based on an experience that he proceeds to relate. The chapter Not a Farmer sets up the framework. Jack explains that he cannot work in the sugarcane fields, because it would involve crossing a bridge, which he never does for fear of meeting a troll. His mother's cousin's nephew once encountered a troll. Jack then obliges his fellow boarders by telling the tale in full. Written in a straightforward manner with touches of wry wit, Jack's stories unfold with the economy and assurance that readers expect of Babbitt. The book is reminiscent of The Devil's Storybook (1974) in its episodic structure, timeless telling, and fine black-and-white illustrations. While even recent college graduates may take comfort in Jack's efforts to find his calling, this rewarding, episodic story is highly recommended for reading aloud in elementary-school classrooms. --Carolyn Phelan Copyright 2007 Booklist